Perusing through an announcement from ARPA-e, I ran across this statistic: the US ethanol industry employed 400,000 people in 2010 and produced 13 billion gallons of ethanol (9 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent). Wow, that is a lot of jobs! Consider the fact that the oil and gas industry employs a comparable number of people, 415,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics data) for extraction and refining. The output of the O&G industry was roughly an equivalent of 130 billion GGE of liquid fuels and about 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (ca. 200 billion GGE). Likewise, in 2010 the US electric power generation sector employed about 390,000 people and to produce 4,325 TWh of electricity. Contrast that with the nearly 100,000 employed in the wind industry that generated only 170 TWh.
As we pointed out in the CMO book, “The primary purpose of the energy industry is not to provide employment within the industry, but to make a commodity that allows many industries to flourish and employ people.” If as a nation we are really seeking to find employment for people, we have to produce more energy. Developing energy sources like ethanol or wind may be great at employing many more people, but it only means that when you have to pay living wages to all those employed; the product is naturally more expensive.